Environmental sustainability on the mind as all-women voyage sails to Antarctica

27 October 2023 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photo iStock. Read time 6 min.
The first voyage of women in STEMM will leave on 3 November.
The first voyage of women in STEMM will leave on 3 November.

A group of 188 women from across the globe will take an odyssey to Antarctica in November to promote the long-term sustainability of the planet as part of a science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) initiative.

The women hail from 25 countries and will depart in two groups, and the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) director of the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), Professor

Gina Ziervogel, will also be setting sail.

Her interest in the mission comes from completing her PhD in geography. She explained that her study looked at small-scale farmers in Lesotho and how they use climate forecasts, then worked in urban areas with people and how they adapt to climate impacts.

“I work on climate change too and, essentially, we are looking at how to reduce climate impact on people and environments. The opportunity to have a personal experience and reflect on my leadership and how I can contribute to sustainability is important,” Professor Ziervogel said.

She was speaking at a virtual send-off hosted by Homeward Bound, the global leadership initiative leading the voyage. She was joined on the panel by Moreangels Mbizah, the founder and executive director of Wildlife Conservation Action in Zimbabwe; Nirvani Dhevcharran, the chief technology officer for platforms and operations at The Foschini Group; and Philista Malaki, a research scientist at the National Museums of Kenya.

For Dhevcharran, there is a lot to look forward to. “We’ve done a lot around sustainability, around our environment within the IT field, but there hasn’t been much done beyond themes of e-waste. There’s more that goes into it and being part of this programme has widened the view for me.”


“I’m looking forward to seeing what this landscape has to offer to me and what I can offer.”

“I truly want to come back and make a difference in enhancing leadership values in the STEMM field – be it visibility or exposing young girls to STEMM programmes and driving the sustainability agenda in IT. It’s going to be an emotional one and going there will need to ensure we don’t leave any part of ourselves there when we leave,” she said.

Malaki focuses on dry land ecosystems. She’s eager to take this trip. “This network of women allows for much more avenues of collaboration and conversation. I am looking forward to being in the wilderness because I love nature. I’m looking forward to seeing what this landscape has to offer to me and what I can offer.” A big part of the work she does involves looking at biodiversity conservation of ecosystems and how local communities can enhance their resilience to cope with effects of climate change.

Mbizah’s work is in wildlife conservation in local communities. Her work is in trying to find solutions for human–wildlife conflict. “This voyage will help me learn more about the impacts of climate change and learn from my sisters on how to better mitigate the effects of climate change on communities that are living in areas adversely affected by climate change,” Mbizah said.

“I am looking forward to taking time to reflect and disengage from busyness of life and have moments to reflect on leadership and the future.”

Visceral experience

Ziervogel concluded: “I am looking forward to the wide-open spaces, the colours, the iceberg, the penguins and to step onto the Antarctic peninsula. There’s something evocative about Antarctica for many of us. It’s also going to be a visceral experience because of the state of the planet. I’m going to come back inspired.”

The first voyage (The Ushuaia) embarks on 3 November from Ushuaia, Argentina, and the second (The Island Sky) embarks on 12 November from Puerto Madryn, also in Argentina.    

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